Blowfish Sushi Lounge – Calgary, AB


Blowfish Sushi Lounge
100-625 11 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2R 0E1
(403) 237-8588

Omakase: from the verb “makasu” which means to trust. What it means in restaurant terms is to place your trust in the chef. To serve you his best. To interpret your tastes. To create an outstanding, unique dining experience.

Lounge: “a barroom in a hotel or restaurant where cocktails are served”

Two near diametrically opposite dining concepts. What do they have in common? Blowfish Sushi Lounge.

When i’m considering places to eat sushi, I have to admit, a lounge is the last place that usually comes to mind. While i appreciate a premium drink as much as the next person, I prefer my sushi experience to be…. unadulterated. Pure. The flavours of Japanese food, and fish specifically are so fresh, I like to focus on the flavours of what i’m eating, than to have my experience, and my dollars, diluted by cocktails.

So the fact that Blowfish Sushi Lounge is my favorite place for sushi in town, and that I strictly order omakase from chef Tomo Mitsuno, is a bit of surprise to myself. I won’t hold it against you if you’re surprised as well.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge is a bit of an ill-conceived concept. High-end sushi, paired with high-end lounge. It’s unfortunate really, as the two don’t seem to mix well, and the prominent bar and fancy lounge like atmosphere hide some of the best food in Calgary. Don’t get me wrong, their cocktails are innovative and excellent – but the two just don’t seem to be a natural fit in the same space.

The menu at Blowfish is typically a bit of a fusion-take on classic sushi. Nigiri is served in pairs – one piece, served in the classic form for nigiri, albeit with a bit too much rice, and the other is a modern interpretation. Most often, the modern interpretation is specially seasoned and then seared with a blowtorch. Both forms are surprisingly good. The change in texture and flavour that the quick, high heat imparts is surprising. It brings a whole new elements to the classic nigiri. Along with the requisite “creative rolls” that the Calgary market loves so much, the menu is rounded out with a smattering of tempura, sashimi, maki, and other cooked dishes.

The reason i order omakase at Blowfish, instead of off the regular menu, is for several reasons. First off, im definitely more of a traditionalist when it comes to Japanese food. I’m definitely not a fan of the fusion rolls, prefering clean, fresh flavours. Also, typically, omakase utilizes the freshest of ingredients that the chef has on hand. Because i have had some serious quality issues with many of the popular sushi establishments in town (namely Globefish and Uptown), i prefer to trust the chef to provide me with his freshest ingredients available. I’ve had fresh Uni, some amazing chu-toro from a fresh Maguro, some nice kanpachi, and other ingredients that don’t always appear on the menu. Secondly, i get to experience some of the creativity of the chef, which is not always clearly expressed in a set menu. Chef Tomo Mitsuno is a classically well-trained Japanese chef, who has experience in a multitude of disciplines, not just sushi. In his typical omakase offering, he utilizes a combination of skills to create an enticing, unique dining experience.

Of course, the serious draw back to omakase is cost. Costing anywhere from $40 and up (i topped out at $100 in one serious glutton session), omakase is not for the budgetary faint at heart. You can definitely eat at Blowfish for less, in fact, their prices, which started off expensive, are now quite comparable to the other higher end sushi restaurants in town. My opinion though, is if you want to enjoy fresh fish, then it’s worth splurging on the freshest fish in Calgary. And Blowfish definitely has that.

In terms of what to expect, I can’t really tell you much. Each omakase experience is tailored to the individual. Knowing that my preferences are in fresher, lighter foods (other than the occasional Japanese Izakaya dish that i crave), I generally get lighter, fresher foods. For example, one meal started with a crab meat salad served on greens, with fresh fruit, citrus, and a uzu-sesame dressing with balsamic vinegar. A great way to start a meal.

The highlight of all meals at Blowfish is the nigiri. From top to bottom, wild salmon, hamachi, maguro, butterfish (escolar), and a seared farmed salmon. The fish is fresh, firm, and tasty. Each piece is topped with a complimentary condiment – many times, this is far superior to the straight up soy and wasabi condiment. My only complaint is sometimes the pieces are a touch big, and to accommodate the bigger pieces, the rice is often too large a serve. This isnt always an issue, but it can be.

Dish after dish of sushi applies for me. Tobiko, kani, seared beef, chu-toro, and ebi.

Sometimes, i get a small smattering of rolls. In this case, beef, scallop, kimchi, and prawn are the principle ingredients. He usually serves this to me after my 15th piece of nigiri, as he wants to fill me up, rather than have a sushi-gorging monster sitting in his restaurant all evening.

I’ve experienced a near infinite variety of other dishes – in fact, i’ve never had the same experience there twice. It’s been different every time. I wish i had the time and space to report on all of them, but you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge is a hard place for me to review. I find it difficult because the inherent differences between omakase and ordering ala carte can create two totally different dining experiences. I have ordered off their menu before, and it was decent, but no where near the same kind of experiences i’ve had ordering omakase. The creativity, and the freshness are what make what would otherwise be a good dining experience a great one. Chef Tomo has a good understanding of my likes and dislikes, and this helps tremendously as well. However, i have taken many friends there, and they have had amazing experiences as well. A lot of it just requires a healthy sense of adventure, and taking some responsibility for communicating your likes and dislikes.

At the end of the day, Blowfish Sushi Lounge, along with Sushi Bar Zipang and Wa’s are the only places in town im happy to eat sashimi/nigiri at. That says a lot. If you want a great dining experience, give the omakase a try. If you’re in the mood for fresh fish (and cocktails!), then I can heartily recommend Blowfish. If cheap, affordable sushi is what you’re in the mood for, there are many other options in town for that.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge on Urbanspoon

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25 thoughts on “Blowfish Sushi Lounge – Calgary, AB

  1. Hope your story helps introduce more Calgarians to this place – my favorite spot in town for sushi (As with you, I enjoy Zipang as well, for they have quality nigiri. And avoid like the plague Uptown and Globefish – people who want their poor quality, end of fresh life tuna covered up by that dreadful spicy sauce, poorly prepped salmon with too many bones still unpicked, and mushy rice-heavy, avocado and other non-traditional ingredient rolls, who think that’s “real” sushi).

    I can still remember the very first time I took you there (I know you’d been there previously) but sat you at the kitchen facing counter to meet Tomo. If you recall, I was carefully choosing my words about how to describe this place to you, about why the bar was there and the vibes this place was trying to give off. I wasn’t sure how you were going to take it all in, or want to even sit through a meal with me. :) As well, you probably remember me boasting about that off-the-menu finishing dish I love to have each time there. I was trying to temper my praise for it but think I had difficulty. I was a little worried if you’d like it as much as me too, glad you ended up enjoying it too.

    I hope since then you’ve been able to eat more of the other non-sushi based kitchen items as well that aren’t on the menu. Lately, that’s been my staple when I go there, eating more homey Japanese dishes that I crave and also so I can limit my meals to under $15, cause I am just as crazy a sushi-gorging monster as you and things can get out of hand! :)

  2. What a coincidence – Blowfish is just several doors down from where I had dinner (Red Door Bistro) on Thursday. Walking past it, this place definitely caught my eye. It is rather “clubby” looking for a sushi place, but after reading your description, it makes sense now.

    As I’ll be in Calgary over the next several weeks, I might just give this place a try.

  3. Hi Foodosopher,

    I have always considered visiting a Japanese restaurant for omakase but the fact you leave it completely up to the chef makes me a bit… uncomfortable (for the lack of a better word). Based on the way you described this meal, is making me change my mind. Having said that, other than Tojo’s (which I am trying to avoid due to the hype), does anybody know of a place in Vancouver that offers omakase?

    On an unrelated note, in the first picture, is that cranberry soda? Would that be your choice of drink for a dinner like this?

  4. > KimHo

    Just cutting in line in front of the foodosopher, but I think you hit it right on the head there. Omakase really needs to be done at a place that you know, where they know you, through a relationship that is forged over time – so both parties are in sync so you’ll get what really satisfies you in the end.

    As for places in Vancouver, I’ve heard that Octopus Garden does offer an Omakase course. Perhaps Yuji’s as well? I think you’d get good quality at Ajisai, but don’t think they can handle an Omakase given how busy they are in that small place that serves no kitchen items.

    And if I had to make a drink choice, yes, mixed drinks are not my preferred choice for sushi accompaniment. Nihonshu or Japanese beer all the way! :)

  5. KimHo,

    First the easy question – the beverage shown is sake infused with cranberries, one of the “premium” beverages from Blowfish. I added it to demonstrate the other side of blowfish.

    My beverage of choice is typically water, or green tea with a meal like this – mostly for cost reasons, but partly for taste. I don’t like drinking beer with sushi, as it really has non-complimentary tastes and has a tendency to overpower the fish. Some nihonshu is ok but often too sweet. If i was pairing a beverage, i’d choose a high minerality Riesling – Alsatian or German, or a Prosecco. They both go amazingly well with sushi – both are very clean, not too much sweetness, and some complimentary flavours (citrus, granite, apple, floral notes).

    In terms of omakase in Vancouver, I believe Octopus Garden does offer one. So does Yoshi’s. Most places run by a Japanese sushi chef will, if you ask politely. It will not always be on the menu, but next time you’re at your favorite sushi place, try and ask. I would skip Tojo’s… very overpriced these days.

    As for your lack of comfort, it does take some getting used to – from both a budget, and a taste perspective. Remember though, true sushi chefs take your satisfaction very seriously – one who cares about the process will monitor and carefully adapt the menu to meet your taste. The first time may not be perfect, but it will improve with time. If you’re still worried, i’d say wait until you are in California/NYC, and try it at one of the more highly regarded places. A good first experience often paves the way to better experiences in the future. The freshness,and the discovery of new flavour combinations really is worth it though.

  6. Dear Foodsopher!
    Gretings!
    Robert-Gilles from Shizuoka Gourmet, Shizuoka Sushi and other blogs!
    Absolutely great pics!
    Great review, too!
    As a sushi and sashimi fan I can only compliment you!
    Looking forward to visiting, and commenting again!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  7. Robert,

    Thank you for stopping by. I’ve been viewing your Shizuoka Sushi site for some months now, as i stumbled across your site when i was looking up facts on hirame, after a factual disagreement with another person!

    Not only are you a phenomenal source of information, but you’re a very lucky man to be living in such a wonderful place, close to the food we both love! Thank you for your kind words. We look forward to repeat visits.

    The entire team at Foodosophy

  8. Greetings again, everyone!
    I’m only sharing a love for good food, nothing much to brag about. LOL.
    Your comments are extremely appreciated.
    Now, feel free to use any information or pics as they are for everyone’s use.
    As I’m in direct contact, please feel free to ask for any information. I’m confident I will be able to help most of the time!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  9. I have, as well, wanted to try a omakase meal for some time, but I’m unaware of anywhere in Edmonton to go. I’ve always loved your reviews and will definitely consider Blowfish next time I make it down to Calgary.

  10. Raidar,

    If you want to try it around Edmonton, I would recommend sitting at the sushi bar at a Japanese run place, and inquiring to the sushi chef if he will do so. Please note that I have never had omakase in Edmonton, so im not sure if any of them will do it. But Kobe, Furusato, the original Mikkado, Wasabi are all Japanese owned. I know there are a few others, but personally, i’d try Wasabi.

    When you come to Calgary, Blowfish, and Zipang both do an excellent omakase. The chef at Wa’s has excellent skill and fresh product as well, and Im sure if you ask politely, would be happy to assist you as well.

    Thank you for your kind comments, and may your omakase meal be an excellent one! If you’ll be heading to California or NYC in the near future, let me know and I can provide you with some excellent suggestions for phenomenal omakase.

  11. Thanks for the heads up. I’m definitely open to trying pretty much everything and I’m not much of a regular to any establishment but Kyoto on 99St and Argyll in Edmonton. I’ll be sure to check in when I head south to Cali, or drop a line after my first omakase!

  12. > foodosopher

    I need to bring back some nice dry Nihonshu to show you how well it goes with sushi/sashimi. The rice-based Nihonshu is a great match for the sushi rice. The one we’ll sample this week is perhaps on the sweet side, so not a good example perhaps.

    Its been a while but I recall Wasabi being a very take-out heavy place. Not sure if the chef there has the luxury of a relaxed setting to really provide a good omakase option for dinners. Must check it out next time I am up there. Mikado’s probably too busy too, to be able to really provide the level of service ala Blowfish. The downside of having grown the business to the level it has (eg. two locations now) I suppose.

    >raidar

    Kyoto in my opinion, is probably not going to give you a real strong impression of sushi, let alone an informed omakase. Hope you are able to experience it elsewhere.

  13. Shokutsu,

    To quote, i said “Some nihonshu is ok but often too sweet”.
    You’re right – there are some great dry nihonshus that go great with sushi, no disagreement here. But – “mostly for cost reasons, but partly for taste”, i generally don’t drink nihonshu with sushi. The style of nihonshu that is typcially served by most restaurants here are usually the sweet kinds – intended to be easy drinking stuff. These kinds don’t go well.

    Wasabi, which used to be very takeout oriented, moved into a restaurant setting in Lendrum from their Strathcona Chinatown Mall location 8 or 9 years ago. It is far more service oriented now, and with two sushi chefs, you may be able to get an omakase meal on a weekday. Mikado i think is more touch and go because of the sheer number of chefs that operate at each location (usually running 5 or 6), many of some dubious training.

    You’re right though, time availability is a big factor in terms of omakase service. When someplace is extremely busy, they generally arent willing to put the effort into doing something that most restaurants here consider to be low margin. Something worth considering.

  14. >foodosopher

    Its more than okay mate, its great! :) The nihonshu in Canada, good ones anyways, are hard to come by and indeed expensive in a restaurant environment. I need to explore the scene more in Vancouver.

    I am aware of Wasabi’s new location – I think the change happened at least eight years back, but think the take-out crowd from the SC Mall did follow them to the current location. If you go, and if you dare, see and let me know if they would accept an omakase invitation, I would be curious to know. I think Mikado’s heyday of the late 1990’s when things were still mid-sized (eg. one location) and Okumiya-san still was front and centre at the bar rather than the business side of his empire, it was a much better place. Yes, the crew that operates in their two locations would not suffice.

  15. >KimHo

    Re-visiting your earlier question about omakase options in Vancouver, I’ve learned recently that “Irashai Grill” on W. Pender St. offers it as well – though you need to give a few days advance notice.

  16. Pingback: Irashai Grill | I'm Only Here for the Food!

  17. Am looking forward to trying this place. Have never had Omakase anywhere in North America. I’ve also never had the cubes to eat uni in Calgary.

    I admit that I’ve become somewhat a fan of the fusion rolls in town but love the real thing.

    I look forward to seeing what they have to offer. thanks for the great review.

  18. Just an update for you CT – they changed chefs at the beginning of the new year. I have not had Omakase with the new chef. They have also renovated and removed the seats in front of the kitchen – it has been walled off to keep kitchen fumes/smells in the kitchen. So the review is a bit dated – but it’s still worth trying im sure!

  19. ^ Went and asked for omakase last night and was told I need to reserve it 24 hours in advance, despite it being on the menu. The lobster one needed prebook but seemed a bit strange.

    Noted that in my Urbanspoon review…a bit shocked and puzzled, but understanding. I did go after work, which was at about 8:30pm last night. Any ideas what may have happened?

    • My guess? New Chef, new philosophy. It goes against the spirit of Omakase, but so did walling off the kitchen. I havent been since last summer, but im guessing they’ve fallen in line with how other establishments in Calgary run their business.

      Try Sushi Bar Zipang.

  20. I recently considered Blowfish as a place to try omakase in Calgary but given TCE’s recent experience I’m not sure anymore. Like you said, having to book it ahead of time flies in the face of tradition and what it’s all about.
    I finally did try omakase in North America but I did so at Nobu in South Beach and chef Matsuhisa prepared it himself so I kinda cheated. :)

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